This is something I wasn’t sure I would ever say, but Scotland has been de-throned as my favorite ABD. It now has to share a place at the top with ABD China. I’d just about given up hope on ABD, but this itinerary renewed my love of the product. It was a perfect mix of top-notch hotels, great food, amazing itinerary, nice surprises, and fantastic travel companions in a small group (24!). And here’s the kicker … I actually felt like the trip was a good value given all the excellent hotels, amount of interior travel, and great food. First off, I have to say how much we all loved China. I think it was DS20 (special needs) favorite place we've ever traveled, and that had an enormous impact on our overall family enjoyment. When DS is having fun the rest of us are having fun But it pretty much blew my entire family away. All our preconceived ideas flew right out the window; it wasn’t what we were expecting at all. There is no comparison to other communist countries we’ve visited (Russia, Cuba (DH), and Greece (which isn’t technically communist but has big communist and socialist parties)). In Russia we felt the oppression, but other than at Tianaman square where we were cautioned not to talk about the student protest, we never felt as if someone was listening or as if our guides couldn’t say what they wanted. To the contrary, many of our guides spoke very frankly about the positives and negatives of Chairman Mao and his legacy. Capitalism is flourishing in China ... flourishing. The US better watch it. China is on its way to being a major superpower (if it isn't already). The focus on infrastructure and newness of many of the buildings was a shock. The airports, metros, rail system, etc. are all new and clean. New things are going up everywhere. Streets have been widened to accommodate traffic, etc. Some of the architecture is stunning. It’s amazing what you can get done with a rich government that owns all the land and can do what it wants, and no EPA rules To this point… my family felt the smog in Beijing, and a little in Shanghai. The numbers were “low,” but looking back I wish I’d worn my mask in Beijing as we all suffered from congestion in the chest and later nasal congestion that presented like hay fever. None of us drank the water from the hotels, but my husband has a sensitive tummy and had a little of Mao's Revenge (i.e. Montezuma's) at one point in the trip. We aren't sure what it was from, but it might have been a packaged ice cream bar at the store or not cooking his hot pot meal long enough. Refrigeration can be an issue in some places so we were later told by a fellow traveler that dairy isn't wise away from hotels. The rest of us were fine. I actually ate a ton on this trip and didn't gain a pound. Amazing what lack of cheese, bread, and things like sour cream will do The only time we felt the horrible crowds that we were warned about was on our post-day when we went back to Shanghai Disney. What a difference a day made! It was packed and pretty horrible. It took us an hour to get into the park, which may be one reason why ABD goes after lunch. We tried to buy priority access tickets, but the set apparently sells out before 9 am, and we were there after the hour in line closer to 11. We rode a couple rides and went back to the hotel—so glad we got so much done with ABD. Otherwise we completely lucked out with crowds, especially in Beijing. We were there when the Chinese kids were taking their all-important (seriously, it determine the rest of their life) three day college entrance test, and it was pretty much deserted at the main tourist sites. Our guides had never seen it like that. We were also extremely fortunate in our weather. Hong Kong was hot and oppressively humid, and Yangshou after the boat ride was pretty horrible but that was it. Our day at Shanghai Disney was actual cool! We had a couple brief periods of rain, including most of our visit to the Pandas, which wasn't a big deal. The lack of crowds and overall great weather had a huge impact on our enjoyment of the trip, so mid-summer travelers your mileage may vary. I’d heard much about the infamous squatty potties, and for me they were a non-issue. I actually kind of liked them! They are very easy in a dress, but shorts were easy, too. As SayHello mentioned, there is one communal potty in the Hutong in Beijing. It wasn’t a big deal for me, but if it is for you, don’t drink coffee that morning! There isn’t another potty opportunity until lunch. Beware the drive back from the wall, too. That was another place I thought they could have used a comfort stop. The people we interacted with were universally friendly and welcoming. They got a big kick out of my 6’5 husband (who we dubbed the great white giant) and my red-headed daughter. They were the subject of many many pictures, but I had quite a few myself One of my favorite moments was at the summer palace when my kids photo bombed a local--they loved it and the interaction was hilarious. I will let SayHello handle the more detailed trip report, but here are my overall thoughts for what they are worth. Itinerary: I think ABD really excels in the more “exotic” or far away destinations where English speakers aren’t necessarily guaranteed and you might not be as comfortable traveling around on your own. China fits that bill perfectly. It was really nice having ABD organize all the interior travel (something I would never have done on my own) and negotiate the various airport and immigration checks—not to mention dealing with the luggage. Going forward, I think I will be much happier with the ABD experience if I focus on these kind of itineraries. I suspect my next ABD will be Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia partially for this reason. If they ever do Japan (PLEASE DO JAPAN!) that will be my #1. This trip has a pretty much perfect itinerary. There isn’t anything major I would change. It hits all the biggies for me: Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square, Great Wall, Pandas, Terra-cotta warriors, and gumdrop mountains. The addition of the two Disney parks was huge for my family. I’m so glad I waited and didn’t go last year—our Shanghai Disney day was amazing. Tron and Pirates at Shanghai Disney are two of the best amusement park rides I've ever been on. I have to throw out a plug for HK Disney as well. I loved that park. It's hard to beat 5 minutes waits. We literally walked on Mystic Manor (another fabulous ride) and the great roller coaster. I also thought Toys land was cute--the RC racers were really fun. We received three Fast Passes at each park, which were good for certain rides. They were huge at Shanghai Disney. ABD always does a good job integrating different/fun activities beyond the usual sightseeing trips (Scone making in Scotland, whisky tasting in Scotland, etc.) One of the biggest surprises for me was how much I enjoyed the (possible spoiler) tea tasting at Xi’an. We had an absolutely adorable tea lady who let us taste of bunch of different teas. I also enjoyed the knot-tying and paper cutting more than I expected. The calligraphy was fun as well, but very difficult. The White Elephant was a blast. Who knew? Very unexpected hilarity. I'm still bitter about my stolen boat! LOL. The one thing that is missing from the itinerary is physical activity. I love when there are hikes, biking, horseback riding, canoeing, or other outdoor activities. We walked a ton, and definitely got our exercise, but a hike on the wall or one of the gumdrop mountains would have been awesome. That is the one thing in the Thompson itinerary that I really liked, and one of the things that made our ABD Scotland so hard to beat. The China trip is so packed it would be hard to integrate, but maybe adding an extra day somewhere would be worth it to do something like this. To the packed trip point … I’d heard it before, but I can’t emphasize it enough: this trip is packed from usually very early mornings to late evenings. We didn’t plan anything extra during the trip, and I’m very glad—any down time we had (which wasn’t much) was necessary. We ended up skipping the face changing opera in Chengdu one night because we were all so exhausted. I didn’t regret it given the wake up time the next day. The nights we did have on our own we were often in bed before nine. All we wanted to do was eat something quick and hit the sack. As SayHello mentioned, there are mostly very early days. I shower in the morning, which meant my typical wake up time was 6:15 to 6:45. Ouch. Our wakeup on the Xi’an day was 4:30 am. I didn’t know they’d set a wake-up call, and I wasn’t happy about it as it cost me 15 minutes of sleep I’d planned to not shower that morning and wake-up as late as possible. Hey, every minute counts at that time of day. There is a lot of interior travel on this trip. It is very worth it, but be warned that some of the days are very long. I thought the two flight day would be the hardest, but I actually hit the wall on the flight from Beijing to Chengdu. It didn’t help that we were delayed well over an hour, which felt like forever. You can pretty much count on delays out of Beijing as they have a 20% on-time rate (we had another slightly delayed flight as well--I want to say it was to Guilin). But that day #6 to Chengdu was really a grind for me. We went directly to dinner after landing and didn’t get back to the room until after 10 pm. BEWARE that the guidebook itinerary is wrong in a number of places. This is one example. The guidebook said we would go to the hotel to check in before going to dinner, but that didn’t happen. The benefit of all those flights? There are only a handful of longish bus rides. I think the 2 hour bus ride to the wall was by far the longest. Most of the others were at the most 45 minutes to an hour. I’m not much of a travel shopper. If you read my Greece trip report last year, I thought there was way too much of it, but for China I could have used a little longer at some places. I regretted not taking advantage of the one long shopping break in Hong Kong. It was so early in the trip I didn’t want to overdo it, but I should have bought what I liked when I saw it. I regretted not buying a cute elephant scarf I saw, and a linen top. We had a short shopping stop at the wall where my husband regretted not buying a funny political t-shirt he didn’t see again. There was also a brief break at the terra cotta warriors where you could shop or see more of the museum. We also had a little time after the boat ride in Guilin, but that was mostly frantic shopping for the White Elephant gifts. The only other "big" shopping opportunity was the last day in Shanghai’s china town. ABD took us to a great silk shop where we bought a few things, but I could have used another hour. I think I would shorten the tour part of that day around Yu Gardens (maybe make it thirty minutes) and give people a longer opportunity to shop and eat lunch before heading off to Disneyland. People who don't want to shop or eat could explore the gardens more. All of these are minor quibbles though. The itinerary is very well thought out and thorough. Well done ABD! Bags and passports: Tinkerbell worked very hard on this trip. There is a TON of moving around of bags. I’m a bit of a control freak with luggage, and I had to let that go. Tinkerbell collects all the luggage at the airports and whisks it back and forth to the hotels. You put your checked luggage outside for the drop and don’t see it unit you get to your hotel room, which is usually very late. We only had one minor snafu when our rooms were changed last minute at the Ritz and our bags ended up in the original rooms. It was sucky timing as it was the longest day for me, and we were all exhausted when we finally got to our room after 10 pm. But we were just glad they weren’t lost. Shiver. You have your carryons with you on all the travel days. They are stored under the bus, but you could access them if you needed to. I packed my bags within the weight guidelines provided by ABD in the booklet, which are less than standard airline rules. I don't think my bags were ever weighed though. I mentioned being controlling about luggage, well I’m even worse when it comes to passports. I had to get over it, which wasn’t easy. Be prepared to give up your passports to the guides almost every day. They need them to pre-check into the flights and to check into all of the hotels. We are leaving on another trip soon, and I was really worried what would happen if they lost one, but thankfully that didn’t happen. Accommodation: The five star hotels were a huge factor for me in choosing this trip. I love top-notch hotels, and this itinerary is chock full of them. The China ABD has by far the best set of hotels we’ve stayed at on an ABD. The “worst” hotel I’d probably characterize as a four star, but it’s the nicest the city (Guilin) has to offer. The other four hotels are amazing. You know you are getting spoiled when you get to the Ritz, and it doesn’t seem all that great, LOL. But we were spoiled by the HK Peninsula and the Rosewood. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Rosewood was the biggest surprise and the favorite of most of the group. We loved it. The staff was fantastic and the rooms were great. Breakfast was amazing (don't miss the noodle and dumpling soup--yes, for breakfast), and as I mentioned earlier don’t miss the Country Kitchen for dinner. Noodles and dumplings galore! They are known as having some of the best noodles in Beijing. Their fried rice was outstanding as well (we tried both). SayHello mentioned that all we needed for the Rosewood was a kitchenette and we could move in We traveled as a family of four in two rooms. Make sure you request connecting (or adjoining rooms where connecting aren’t available). We were separated by a few rooms in one place and had a connecting room in Shanghai but the others were all adjoining. Maybe it’s because my kids are older and there are only so many connecting rooms, but if this is important to you make your request known. I heard a rumor that they might change the Rosewood hotel next year. I hope this isn’t true. I would be disappointed to hear if any of the hotels changed as they were a big selling point of the trip for my family and contributed enormously to the overall great feelings about the trip. It had that special VIP touch that used to set ABD apart for me. Food: This ABD had by far the best first and last meals of any trip we’ve been on. The restaurant at the HK Peninsula for the welcome dinner has a Michelin Star, and Club 33 for the last meal put a perfect touch on a fantastic trip. We enjoyed all the meals on the trip, but the dumpling place in Shanghai was probably my favorite with ABD. I also loved the previously mentioned on our own Country Kitchen at the Rosewood hotel, which we had twice. It's hard for me to remember all the restaurants, but I recall really liking the lunch on our first full Beijing day as well. The lunch at the Schoolhouse after the Wall was lackluster, but I suspect there isn’t much choice in the area that can handle a large group. I had a hard time with the boxed meals, but that’s probably just me. I need protein for breakfast (a hard boiled egg and/or yogurt would have been huge) and I hate processed lunch meat (thanks a lot Calfan). I also get a little grossed out by tuna that isn’t refrigerated for over an hour. We were given the boxed meals early in the day, hours before lunch. I suspect there isn’t much they can do. The Starbucks meal in Xi’an was the best of the bunch because the muffin and fruit were yummy. If you like KFC, you will be in heaven. They seemed to be all over the place, LOL. I didn't eat much of the boxed lunch on the boat I had my first KFC in years because we needed to eat something quickly. For on our own meals, we were so tired we were looking for something quick and easy (and preferably cheap). I intended to gorge myself on dumplings whenever I could We had a great dumpling meal in Hong Kong in the mall behind the hotel (third floor) on our pre-night. We were the only westerners in there). I want to say the bill was about $50 for all four of us. We also had an $8 dumpling meal (all four of us!) in Chengdu about a block from the Ritz (concierge and our local guide made the recommendation). It would have been nice to have one of the Beijing meals covered by Disney. My suggestion is the Country Kitchen. It was relatively cheap for a hotel restaurant—$75 without drinks for tons of food for four—just watch the sodas/drinks which are relatively expensive. The food at Hong Kong Disney wasn’t great, although I loved the park. (Aside: Not sure why people don’t like it—we walked on most rides and mystic manor is fantastic.) Shanghai Disney’s food was slightly better, although I was glad we had lunch in China town before arriving as the guides suggested. Entertainment: We skipped the face changing performance in Chengdu, but the reports back on it were that it was fun. We really enjoyed the acrobat show (Era) in Shanghai. Surprises: Compared to other ABD trips I’ve been on lately there were tons of them—big and small. They really added to our overall enjoyment of the trip. One of the biggest was Club 33, which has already been outed. The funny thing is that our guides lied to us and had us thinking it wasn’t part of the itinerary, which made the surprise even better. I don’t want to ruin anything else, but I really appreciated all the surprises and hope future ABDers have the same experiences we did. I’ll have to list them all somewhere at some point so I remember for anyone curious later. Group and Guides: For frequent readers of this board, this will sound like a broken record, but size matters. Our group of 24 was perfect and contributed enormously to our overall enjoyment of the trip. There were many times I thought to myself that I couldn’t imagine doing this trip with a larger group. That’s bad news for the rest of the trips, as we were told our group was the smallest of the year. We really lucked out. I’m not sure I will do another ABD with more than 30 people, even if that means waiting until the last minute to book. I wish ABD would listen. Charge me a little more if you have to, but cut off the groups at 30. The small number also gave our group a chance to really bond. We enjoyed everyone we met and hope to keep in touch with many of our fellow travelers. It was fun to finally meet fellow DISers SayHello and Karen. My son is now a huge SayHello fan—I think I will be hearing about her from him for a while She had a lovely thing to say about him on our final night that was really sweet--so again, thank you, SayHello! We had Joe and Ralph as our ABD guides and Bruce (in Hong Kong), Kun (Chengdu), Dave (Xi’an), Jenny (Guilin) and Flo (Shanghai). They were all terrific. Due to the logistics of the trip and all the moving around, except for Beijing where he served as the local guide, we didn’t see as much of Joe as we did of Ralph. Joe was very busy with Tinkerbell The local guides were all terrific (my family all had different favorites) who filled in very well as a second guide. With the group being so small, it wasn’t an issue and Ralph did a great job of running the show on his own when he needed to. We were treated to a very special performance by Ralph as well--he kept us well entertained. Highlights: This is almost impossible to answer. It was basically a trip of highlights. The Great Wall was amazing and the Terra-Cotta Warriors were even more impressive than I anticipated. We got to see the twin baby Pandas the very first day they were let out of the incubator (serious, serious cuteness). I loved the Forbidden City way more than I expected. Dining at Club 33 while overlooking the fireworks at the castle ... incredible. But I still think the highlight for me was probably cruising through the gumdrop mountains. They were the reason I first wanted to go to China after seeing the movie THE PAINTED VEIL, and they did not disappoint. It was such a relaxing day, and the mountains were simply beautiful. I was hoping to post more pictures with this summary, but I had a major downer when I got home. My camera card was somehow corrupted. I was able to download a few of them, but I'm missing a couple hundred. I'm going to take it to a camera shop to see what they can do. Thankfully I have the ABD pics, and I'd downloaded a few to my phone. I'm religious about downloading usually, but as I didn't have my laptop or iPad, I didn't have enough storage to do more than a few dozen to my phone. Bummer. I will try to update this with a few pics when I get them resized!